I grew up in a home where I knew I was loved. I was a surprise, but a good surprise. My mom turned 40 a few months after I was born. My dad was nearly 40 as well. I was the long-awaited son.
Both Mom and Dad hugged and kissed me a lot. They showed their acceptance of me in many ways.
I longed to have my father’s approval. He had grown up in an alcoholic family, and his father never approved of him, either.
When I became a Christian at the start of my senior year in college, I was overjoyed to be accepted by God forever. I knew for sure that I was saved once and for all. I knew I was part of His forever family.
I did not learn about God’s approval until seven years later when I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. I came to learn an important distinction between God’s acceptance and His approval. I believe you will find this distinction to be very encouraging.
The Difference Between Acceptance and Approval
We see this difference in nearly every area of life.
Family. If you have children, then you accept them. Period. But you may not approve of them and their behavior. If your child is a drug addict, for example, then you do not approve of him or his behavior. But you still accept him as your child. He will always be your child.
Politics. There have been times in our lives when regardless of our political views, we have not approved of the actions of our President. However, if we are mature people, we accept him as our President. It is nice when we also approve of him. But we should certainly accept whoever is duly elected as President.
Sports. This illustration breaks down a bit since teams can cut their players. But let us say that the head coach loves his players and accepts them as he would his own children.
I recently saw a documentary about one of the greatest running backs of all time, Lawrence Phillips. His college coach at Nebraska was Tom Osborne. Osborne loved and accepted Phillips. Yet when Phillips assaulted his former girlfriend, Osborne suspended him indefinitely. Later Phillips played for Dick Vermeil with the Rams. Vermeil loved and accepted Phillips too. But when Phillips came to games drunk, Vermeil cut him.
In sports, a good coach accepts all his players. But he does not approve of all his players.
Church. A good church will accept everyone who joins the fellowship who believes in Christ for everlasting life. But a good church only approves of those members that are walking with the Lord. If a member strays from the Lord and refuses to repent, then the church disfellowships the person. He is accepted as a brother in Christ. But he is not approved while he is away from the Lord.
God Accepts All People Who Believe in His Son for Everlasting Life
The Scriptures are clear on this point. Anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ for his eternal destiny is accepted by God.
John 3:16 tells us that the Father so loved us that He sent His Son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but has everlasting life.
John 5:24 says that when we believe in Jesus, we are also believing in the Father who sent Him. And all who believe in Jesus have everlasting life, will never come into judgment regarding their eternal salvation, but have passed from death into life.
In John 10:28-29 the Lord Jesus said that whoever believes in Him is held securely in His hand and in the Father’s hand. There is no such thing as someone who has believed in Jesus who is not accepted by God.
John says in John 1:12-13 that whoever believes in Jesus is a child of God. Our status as God’s children is permanent. Once we believe in Jesus, we are saved and secure forever. Once saved, always saved.
God Only Approves of Believers Who Are Faithful
God does not approve of wickedness. If a believer in Jesus Christ strays and begins to live an ungodly life, then he forfeits God’s approval.
I urge you to do a word study on approved and disapproved in the NT. I have done that and here is what I found.
The word approve (dokimos) occurs 7 times in the NT. Six of those uses refer to being approved by God. Here are four of those six references.
Romans 16:10. Paul says that a man named Apelles was “approved in Christ.” That was his current spiritual state, but it could change.
1 Corinthians 11:19. Paul said, “that those who are approved” within the church of Corinth “may be recognized among you.” Again, some in the church were currently approved by Christ, though that might change.
2 Corinthians 10:18. Those “whom the Lord commends” are “approved” by Him.
2 Timothy 2:15. Timothy was to “be diligent to present [himself] approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed…”
The word disapproved (adokimos), the antonym of the word approved, occurs 8 times in the NT. Six of the eight uses refer to not being approved by God, though English translations sometimes translate it as disqualified, as in disqualified to win the race. One of those verses clearly shows that it is possible for a born-again person to fail to be approved by Christ.
1 Corinthians 9:27. This verse exemplifies what it would mean to be disapproved by Christ. In the three verses before verse 27, Paul called for the believers in Corinth to strive for the imperishable crown, a reference to ruling with Christ forever.
Paul knew that he and the believers in Corinth had everlasting life. However, Paul did not know, and could not know, that He would gain the imperishable crown and Christ’s approval. To have the crown and the approval, Paul would have to endure to the end of his Christian life.
Paul feared that after preaching to others about winning the crown, he himself would be disapproved.
All theologians and preachers recognize that it is important to persevere in the Christian life. However, some say that you must persevere in faith and good works to get into the kingdom. They say that if you fail to persevere, then you will end up in hell forever.
I read a thesis at DTS on 1 Cor 9:27 in which the student argued that Paul was expressing doubts about whether he would escape eternal condemnation.
Another group of theologians and preachers understand perseverance to be required to have Christ’s approval and to rule with Him in the life to come. That is the natural understanding of 1 Cor 9:27.
Paul was sure that he had everlasting life and that he could never lose it (Eph 2:8-9; 2 Tim 2:12). He also knew that he was currently approved when he wrote 1 Corinthians. But he knew that approval, unlike acceptance, could be lost.
I did not realize it when my dad was alive, but he was never going to approve of me. I kept striving for his approval right up until he died. I was 37.
A few years after he died, I went for some counseling because I was struggling. The counselor explained that I had been striving for my dad’s approval, but that I could not get it. He said after my dad died, I looked for father figures to approve of me.
I came to accept that my dad never approved of me. I always fell short of his expectations in sports, in my career choice, in where I chose to live, and in many other aspects of my life.
But through counseling I came to realize that it was Christ’s approval that I really wanted. His approval is the ultimate approval in life.
I’ve completed seven marathons. That is 26.2 miles. I am in training now for one on December 31st. The Christian life is a life-long marathon. It is a race that is not over until we die or are raptured.
Did you know that the Lord Jesus will say, “Well done, good servant” (Luke 19:17) to believers who persevere in the Christian life? Those whom He approves He will publicly praise before all believers of all time.
Wouldn’t you love to hear your Lord and Savior say, “Well done, good servant”? Wouldn’t you love to have His approval?
Remember the difference. God accepts everyone who has ever believed in His Son for everlasting life. But He will only approve those who persevere in faith and good works.